CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. –
Military attorneys from all branches of the Department of Defense attended the Military Judge Course at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School where they received advanced schooling required to qualify as military judges at courts-martial.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Couch, a JAG Officer for the Kentucky National Guard and Assistant Clay County Attorney in Manchester, Kentucky was officially robed during an investiture ceremony July 1, 2022.
Couch has over 20 years of experience as an attorney and has served as a Judge Advocate for the Guard for 16 years. Army Col. Jason Shepherd, staff judge advocate, believes that Couch is uniquely qualified to be a military judge.
“Lt. Col. Couch was selected for this position because of his experience both as a judge advocate, and as a prosecutor” Shepherd said. “As a judge advocate, he is a senior leader who has experience in some of the most challenging roles as a judge advocate can serve in. As a civilian prosecutor, he has tried some of the most serious cases, to include death penalty cases.”
Military judges preside in trials, interpret the law, assess the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials transpire in their courtrooms. Topics covered during the Military Judge Course include military criminal law, trial procedures, defenses, instructions, evidence, current military judicial issues and professional responsibility.
The Military Judge Course is the most difficult course at the Judge Advocate General’s School. It requires rigorous study by the Judge Advocates who attend and an extensive background and experience in criminal law.
“It was the hardest course I have ever taken, ‘’ Couch recounted. “I would not have passed if it was not for my criminal law experience on the civilian side. It has given me a greater appreciation of what judges do and the inherent fairness of the military criminal justice system.”
While civilian law experience was paramount to his success; he had to spend much of his time during the course reacquainting himself with the military justice system. That is because the military justice system is separate from the civilian court system.
For Kentucky Guardsman, there is the Kentucky Code of Military Justice (KCMJ) which closely aligns with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Kentucky Guardsmen are subject to the KCMJ at all times and in all places, however, the UCMJ only applies to Service Members when they are in a Title 10 active duty status.. The KCMJ is comprised of a set of criminal laws and includes many that are punishable under civilian law (e.g., murder, rape, drug use, drunk driving, etc.). It also gives commanders the authority to punish other conduct that is related to good order and discipline in the military. Offenses of this nature include absence without leave, disrespect towards superiors, malingering, conduct unbecoming of officer and sexual harassment.
Shepherd believes that having the ability to convene courts-martial in Kentucky will benefits both Soldiers and commanders.
“It gives commanders a stronger military justice tool than nonjudicial punishment for more serious disciplinary issues,” Shepherd said. “It also allows commanders to punish conduct that our civilian law does not cover, which will further protect victims within our ranks.”